Late in 2018 it was reported that Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental health illness in Europe costing the Irish economy over €8.2 billion annually. The most recent National Census (2016) recorded a 29% increase in mental health issues between the years 2011 and 2016 with 18.5% of the Irish population registered as suffering from a mental health disorder, including anxiety and depression.
While research has proven that exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good – boosting your self-esteem, helping you to concentrate and feel better, a report undertaken by Lunn and Kelly in 2017 noted that both mental and physical wellbeing are listed as some of the main reasons for partaking in golf regularly.
Golf’s effect on mental health depends immensely on the level you play the game at. The mental health outcomes of a recreational golfer who plays once a week with their regular four ball partners and a player who is competing at an elite level – investing all of their time and energy into always improving, can vary greatly.
Irish Ladies Golf Union (ILGU) High Performance golfer Lauren Walsh (Castlewarden), who is currently preparing for her Leaving Certificate exams, has been using golf as a break from the stresses of study. Her decreased practice time seems to have had little effect on her form however as she recently finished 7that the Italian Women’s Amateur and won the Woodbrook Scratch Cup with a three under par total over two rounds.
“Golf definitely has had a positive effect on my mental health,” admits the 18-year-old who has secured a scholarship at Wake Forest University. “Although it can be a frustrating game at times, I enjoy the challenge it brings. It’s always something different, every day you face new challenges, so I enjoy when I work it out and see improvements.”
“This year golf has been a total escape from my studies. It has been great for my mental health and concentration in school. At times it was difficult to stop myself feeling guilty for not studying when I’m training or on the course but I’ve gotten better at managing the two together and I now notice that after practicing or going to the gym it’s much easier to sit down and focus on my study – I end up being more productive. So, in one way it has been like a type of mindfulness for me.”
Aine Donegan (Lahinch), a member of the ILGU Horizon Performance Panel, recently admitted that mindfulness has taken her game to the next level this season – resulting in her winning the Carlow Scratch Cup and finishing tied 6that the Irish Girls’ Open Stroke Play Championship.
“Donal [Scott] did a talk with us on breathing and mindfulness, which was really good. I’m doing mindfulness now nearly every day and I’ve really noticed the difference, even in school it helps so much.”
Even Rory McIlroy, during a press conference last week, alluded to his use of meditation as a factor in his recent consistent form and in preparing for Augusta.
“I’ve dabbled in it [meditation] over the years and I’ve needed it from time to time, but I never fully immersed myself in it… It’s searching until you find what resonates with you and I’ve found what resonates with me.”
“I meditated for 20 minutes before playing the final round of The Players, my routine now consists of meditation, juggling, mind-training – I even saw some of the players in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur juggling on the range last week – it’s catching on!”
Then what for the regular recreational or club golfer, who after work on a summer’s evening, enjoys the freedom of the fairways and some fresh air? There is a lot to be said for spending some time free from technology for a few hours, immersed in nature and purely focused on the task at hand or social interaction with your playing partners.
Golf typically takes 2 – 4 hours to play and an 18 hole round can add anywhere from 12,000 – 15,000 steps to your daily total, exceeding the commonly recommended daily amount of steps for health. Even the 10 million golf spectators who frequent fairways around the world annually have been shown to average over 11,500 steps per day.
As a moderately intense physical activity, golf is also likely to prevent the onset of cognitive decline and, in those with dementia, can reduce the decline of both mental and physical activity. Further psychological benefits include improved mood, reduced anxiety and increased confidence not to mention boosting of social connections and self-esteem.
It is highly hypothesised that our busy lives and lack of time ‘switched off’ is contributing to the demise of the mental health of the Nation. Exercise is now prescribed by GP’s and health specialists a like, so it begs the question – if research is suggesting that we need to become healthier, both physically and mentally, and choosing some regular physical activity can contribute to that, then why not choose golf?